AR2014 Unites and Empowers

“My expectations were already high, but [the conference] blew them away!”

“We loved every minute! Inspiring, energizing, and fun!”

“I came to the conference mostly vegetarian, but left completely vegan.”

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Every Animal Rights National Conference is a success because of the amazing people who attend with their minds open and leave with their hearts full, ready to take action for animals. AR2014 was exceptional in that it brought in the most attendees of any conference before – over 1,300 to be exact. Coupling that with the most speakers we’ve ever had (120+), this was definitely our biggest Animal Rights National Conference yet!

Many of the conference’s highlights occurred during our plenaries. Our most unforgettable plenary was “Tales from the Trenches,” which included first-hand accounts of undercover investigations in slaughterhouses and factory farms. Using no images and no video footage, former investigators TJ Tumasse and Taylor Radig had the audience spellbound by their harrowing experiences in these facilities. Nary a dry eye was to be found in the entire ballroom.

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Our closing plenary, emceed by VegNews’ Colleen Holland, wrapped up our conference on a positive note. “We Are Winning” highlighted all the ways in which our movement is succeeding and making huge changes for animals. We also featured a compilation video featuring clips submitted from activists around the world, including our very own 10 Billion Lives crew, sharing how they are saving animals this summer. It was also during our closing plenary that we had an Animal Rights National Conference first: a couple got engaged surrounded by 1,300 other compassionate folk!

Our Awards Banquet was an amazing event! After a colorful and delicious meal, followed by decadent chocolate cake, banquet guests were treated to a comical magic show from vegan magician, Brandon Scott. We then turned the spotlight and the mic over to some special people who deserved recognition for their contributions to the animal rights movement. We started by bestowing the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award to our very own Dr. Alex Hershaft, founder and President of Farm Animal Rights Movement. The 2014 inductee to the Animal Rights Hall of Fame was Vegan Outreach’s, Jon Camp, the “Million Booklet Man.” Known as The 300 Pound Vegan, NFL linebacker, David Carter accepted the award for Outstanding Vegan Athlete, wisely stating, “You don’t need to take a life to gain muscle.” Eighteen-year-old Andrew Pucetti won the Young Activist Award in recognition of his success in ending classroom dissections and promoting vegan eating. The Henry Spira Grassroots Awards went to dedicated activists, Armaiti May and Judy Carman, for their unpaid work to help animals in their communities.

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Of course, the biggest highlights of all came from the session rooms and the socials. Learning from seasoned activists, networking with advocates from around the country, and making like-minded friends are priceless moments at the Animal Rights National Conference. It’s what keeps this conference, an enormous undertaking!, going year after year, and it’s what powers our movement forward, day after day. This conference couldn’t happen without our sponsors, volunteers, staff, speakers, donors, or attendees. We are eternally grateful for everyone’s support. We’re all in this together!

We look forward to another amazing conference in 2015, happening at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center July 30th – August 2nd, just outside of Washington, DC. Registration will open in February, so keep up with FARM on our website and social media platforms! 

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For even more AR2014 highlights, please check out our full report here.

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Earth Balance is Bringing Cheesy Back

Vegan cheese isn’t a brand new creation, but in the last few years, the vegan cheese scene has exploded with delicious, animal-free options. Vegan cheese shreds, slices, blocks, and crumbles abound, leaving endless possibilities for vegans who miss the cheese they ate in their pre-vegan days. However, there’s one vegan company in particular that has been elevating vegan cheesy foods to a whole new level lately: Earth Balance.

Earth Balance has veganized a lot of dairy staples: mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, butter, and milk. In the last two years, Earth Balance has waved their magic wands and turned favorite snacks vegan, with much rejoicing!

First came their cheesy popcorn and puffs. Former fans of Smartfood found delicious comfort in EB’s Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Popcorn. Give Chester Cheetah a break and try that same flavor in puff form.

Next came the kettle potato chips. Available in three flavors, the cheddar-style arguably outshines the original and sour cream styles, and easily gives non-vegan cheesy chips a run for its money.

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If you spend any amount of time on the Internet, you no doubt caught wind of Earth Balance’s release of their vegan cheese crackers. Resembling popular non-vegan crackers, such as Cheez-Its and Cheese Nips, EB’s version packs that cheesy punch without any animal products. Social media was abuzz with the news and the crackers were flying off the shelves of vegan grocery stores across the country!

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Now, Earth Balance is blowing our minds and tastebuds again with the news of their new macaroni and cheese. Packaged in that slender box that many of us associate with “the blue box blues” (Kraft dinner), EB’s version contains no animal products, meaning no one gets the blues, not us or the animals! The new mac & cheese comes in classic cheddar and white cheddar flavors. The mac & cheese is available at select vegan grocery stores (such as Food Fight! in Portland, OR) and will hit Whole Foods in July.

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With more and more vegan options becoming available, it just makes me think of that T-shirt slogan: “Anything You Can Eat, I Can Eat Vegan!” It also makes me wonder, “What will Earth Balance think of next?!”

Photo credits: Earth Balance & Food Fight!

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FARM Says Farewell to Spring and Welcome to Summer 10 Billion Lives Crews!

We’re halfway through the year and our 10 Billion Lives campaign is going full speed ahead!

Our spring tours were a great success! Todd and Angie wrapped up nearly 10 months of outreach in the great state of California with our Southwest tour. Together they visited 67 schools and spoke with 23,962 students! Be sure to read their tour recap here.

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Andy and Amanda had an unforgettable 5 months with our National Tour, bringing our effective campaign across the South despite extreme weather and mechanical issues. They reached thousands of people across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma!

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Now we’re turning up the heat on our 10 Billion Lives outreach with our Summer of Saving Animals! Meet our crews for the summer who will help us reach more people and save more animals than ever before!

Josh and Di are taking the Southwest Tour by storm! Josh has been vegan for 8 years and will be returning to school in the fall for a PhD in Philosophy. Di has been vegan for two years and previously interned at Farm Sanctuary.

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We have crew of fierce advocates for our Warped Tour outreach this summer featuring THREE tour alumni: John returns as tour operator, and Andy returns as our driver. We also have three great interns: Andrea, Tiana, and returning crew member, Radish.

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You, too, can join us for our Summer of Saving Animals!

Volunteers are needed during Warped Tour to help us reach as many people as possible. We’ve seen firsthand how volunteers bring in more viewers. More viewers = more animals saved! If you’d like to help out and make a BIG impact while the tour is in your city, please fill out a quick volunteer application here.

If you’re short on time, consider donating to our Summer of Saving Animals fundraiser. Every dollar brings us another viewer of our powerful video, and every viewer goes on to save more animals!

Also, be sure to follow us along on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, where we’ll be posting regularly about our outreach, using the hashtag #SavingAnimals.

Together we can make this a summer of monumental change for animals!

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Todd & Angie Say Farewell to the Southwest Tour

Todd and Angie recently concluded nearly 10 months of touring with the 10 Billion Lives Southwest Tour, traveling around the state of California, educating people on the treatment of animals on farms and how to work toward a vegan diet. What follows is their recap of their experience on tour. 

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When we received word that FARM was interested in having us join their team as operators for the Southwest Tour, we were ecstatic. For both of us, this was our first job doing direct advocacy with the public on behalf of animals. Before joining the FARM team, Angie had spent her years since college balancing working for nonprofits with traveling and volunteering around the globe, and Todd had dedicated the last 9 years of his career to being a special education teacher at a middle school in his hometown.We couldn’t wait to get started talking to people every day about the plethora of issues surrounding meat, egg, and dairy consumption.

The Southwest Tour kicked off in San Francisco at San Francisco City College last August. SFCC was the first of 67 schools we would end up visiting, talking to 23,962 students before finishing on May 29th in Los Angeles. Most of the students we talked to went on to make changes that will impact millions of animals. The range of the SW tour is nothing like the FARM’s National 10 Billion Lives Tour. We stayed in the Golden State and traveled around, from the aptly named Southwestern College in Chula Vista, as far north as Sacramento State, and many schools in between! One of the best perks of operating a tour like this is meeting the dedicated activists who run campus clubs that advocate for animal rights and environmental conservation. We were blown away by the dedication and compassion of these students.

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 We reckon we must have accumulated some seriously good vegan activist karma over the past year because our final day on tour was one of the best days of both of our lives. Our tour coordinator, Ryan had contacted us a month before to let us know that a sophomore from Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academy (SSLA), a high school in Glendale, California, had invited us to an ‘Awareness to Action Fair,’ organized by the students. We’d never taken the kiosks to a high school before and we weren’t entirely sure what would transpire, but we decided to give it a shot. Little did we know that we would arrive that morning to one of the most inspiring scenes we’d ever see. What began as just a routine paper/project on critical world issues had been taken by the sophomore English class and transformed into an entirely student driven fair, discussing dozens of critical topics for 1,500 students and their parents. We were blown away. We spent the day speaking with students, their parents, and their community, about what they could do to create less animal suffering in the world, and it was phenomenal. We ended the day with 454 viewers, the most viewers we’d had in a single day all school year!

If either of us are ever asked for the top three things we learned on tour we’ll probably give an answer that goes something like this:

  1. Everyone (and we really mean everyone) who has changed their diet and lifestyle, even in the slightest, is making a difference. We can’t count the number of times a viewer told us that they had already been thinking about making changes because their Mom’s best friend has started doing Meatout Mondays, or their partner has been eliminating different foods from their diet, or their boss has been vegan for years and brings in delicious goodies to the office to share. Change is happening, and it’s happening because of you, and because of us, and because we are speaking up.
  2. Sometimes people don’t need to hear statistics, they just need to know what you had for lunch. Often times we found that viewers would finish the video and feel intrigued yet overwhelmed by the idea of going vegan. The term ‘vegan’ still brings up images of iceberg lettuce and sliced tomatoes in so many people’s minds, and while that may be laughable to those of us who spend our days eating meals that would have a jaw-dropping effect on the surest of meat eaters, often people just need to hear that they can still eat a burrito, or that their favorite restaurant likely has vegan options for them, and if they don’t there are so many restaurants that will. Our follow up conversations after the video were critical to giving people the confidence to move forward.
  3. And lastly, if you really want to get to know someone, spend 9 ½ months living in a tiny van with them doing outreach. Lessons learned: don’t bother trying to talk to Todd while he is listening to the daily news, and don’t even think about asking Angie if she wants to split dessert.

There were tears when tour ended, but we were also excited for our own new adventures to come, and also for the tour, as we’ve left it in incredibly capable hands. Di & Josh are already doing amazing work saving the lives of animals, non-human and human, and we can’t wait to follow along their adventure. Our year living in a van and speaking on behalf of animals will surely go down as one of the best of our lives, but we don’t just have each other to thank for that. We’re finding it hard to find the words to express the gratitude we have for all of you for having been a part of this journey with us, because none of them encapsulate exactly how important you all were to making this a success.

To our coworkers and fellow road warriors at FARM, especially Ryan, thank you for always having our backs and inspiring us with your dedication and compassion. To everyone we met on the road, the students who gave us hope, and the community members who opened up their homes and hearts to us, thank you for keeping us going, and for being the change we wish to see in the world. For all of you who support this tour, financially or with your words of encouragement, we wouldn’t be here without you. Every dollar matters, every dollar saves lives. Through follow-up surveys, FARM has found that on average 13 animals are saved every year for each person that watches our video on the kiosks. That amounts to 311,506 animals annually that will be spared a life of suffering and a brutal slaughter from our 9 ½ months on tour. That number doesn’t belong to just us, you were a part of that. We couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for saving animals and the planet with us. It has been an honor.

FARM thanks Todd and Angie for their tremendous work with the 10 Billion Lives tour! Please join us in acknowledging their hard work and a job well done by congratulating them in the comments. Coming soon: meet the new summer crew on both our Southwest and National tours! 

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From the Road: Everything is Bigger in Texas, Including Compassion Toward Animals (Part Two)

Students baring witness to the atrocities that take place every day on animal farms.
Students bearing witness to the atrocities that take place every day on animal farms.

Andy (truck tour operator) and I (Amanda, tour assistant) spent several weeks in the great state of Texas, educating hundreds of people about the treatment of animals and encouraging people to adopt a vegan diet. We recapped the first half of our time in Texas in Part One. Now, in Part Two, we’re highlighting our last Texas stop and also sharing some of the great vegan eats we enjoyed statewide.

Our time at the University of North Texas in Denton was memorable, to say the least. UNT is home to Mean Greens, the first all-vegan college dining hall. It was very helpful to refer students interested in vegan meals to an all-vegan cafeteria right on their campus. Andy and I ate at Mean Greens multiple times and were happy to recommend it! The food at Mean Greens is a fantastic representation of vegan fare. From cozy comfort foods like pasta dishes, casseroles, soups and stews to fun foods like pizza and soft serve, they really cover it all. Their salad bar is fully stocked and offers a couple different housemade salad dressings (their ranch dressing is the best we’ve ever had) and the Panini station is always open during lunch and dinner, offering pressed veggie sandwiches or a housemade black bean burger. We met with Ken Botts, the man who started Mean Greens, many times while we were at UNT. Ken was greatly enthusiastic and supportive about the 10 Billion Lives tour being on campus and cheered on our work every day.

Andy, Amanda and Ken Botts, the man behind Mean Greens (from left)
Andy, Amanda, and Ken Botts, the man behind Mean Greens (from left)

UNT also has a recently-formed animal rights group called Mean Greens for Animals. This group arranged fantastic volunteers to join us throughout our three days on campus. It was great to connect with these young activists, and their group was yet another on-campus recommendation we gave to viewers who were eager to start helping animals. There’s no doubt in our minds that MGFA will be doing great things for animals!

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Truck Tour Cuisine with The 10 Billion Lives Crew

Mashed sweet potatoes, BBQ Beyond Meat, slaw with Beyond Mayo, and Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Amy's mac & cheese.
Brussels sprouts, BBQ Beyond Meat, slaw with Just Mayo, and Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Amy’s mac & cheese.

Andy (truck tour operator) and I (Amanda, tour assistant) love finding vegan meals in restaurants everywhere we go with the 10 Billion Lives tour. And while there really are vegan options everywhere, most of the time we cook our own meals. Though we lack a full kitchen as we’re touring the country, we’re able to whip up some gourmet meals with limited equipment. Since we talk to a lot of people who themselves have limited (or no) kitchen space, are short on time, and are cooking on a budget, we wanted to share some of our favorite meals we make while on the road that use affordable ingredients that can be found in any supermarket, can be made in a rice cooker, and don’t require much prep work.

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From the Road: Everything is Bigger in Texas, Especially Compassion Towards Animals (Part One)

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When Andy (truck tour operator) and I (Amanda, tour assistant) told our friends that we would be bringing the 10 Billion Lives program all around Texas, we were usually met with pity laughs or dropped jaws. Everyone seemed to picture us going into a “Meat Country” war zone. On the contrary, our several weeks in Texas proved that the Lone Star state is full of surprises. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes compassion toward animals.

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“Never Too Late to Go Vegan:” An Interview with Virginia Messina

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Virginia Messina, also known as The Vegan RD, has a few books under her belt including “Vegan for Life” and “Vegan for Her;” both which I highly recommend. In her latest installment, co-authored with Carol J. Adams and Patti Breitman, “Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over-50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving on a Plant-Based Diet,” Messina provides essential nutritional information pertinent to folks who are over age 50. In addition, the trio of authors tackles some of the challenges facing folks who are interested in transitioning to a vegan diet later in life and help guide their readers towards a goal of ultimate health.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview Virginia Messina regarding her latest book. My interview is posted below. Messina will also be speaking at this year’s Animal Rights National Conference held July 10th-13th in Los Angeles, California.

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Earth Day 2014: Activists Encourage the Public to Evaluate the Impact Their Food Choices have on the Planet

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Vegan Earth Day 2014 was one of our best yet! More than 154 activists from all over North America distributed our new brochures at local events to encourage people to make the environment-diet connection. While most people leafleted, others gave out food samples or held pay-per-view events. Volunteers in 40 states and 3 Canadian provinces participated in Vegan Earth Day this year, distributing nearly 15,000 of our brochures to the public.

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Skip the Easter Ham and Skip the Cruelty

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An Easter tradition here in the US has been to celebrate life and new beginnings by sitting down to a meal with a honey-baked ham as the centerpiece. Thing is… if most folks took a moment to reflect on the true meaning of this holiday, they might notice that consuming the body of a dead animal doesn’t align with the life-affirming spirit of Easter.

Pigs are highly intelligent animals, with advanced learning and problem solving capabilities. They can use tools, understand commands just like dogs do, they respond to their name only after a few months of being born, and they have a high sense of social recognition, which help them form strong social bonds. Pigs can even learn to play video games!

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